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Bam Telecoms rattles SA phone market with home-grown devices

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 28 Jul 2023
Bam’s flagship 4G-enabled smart feature phones: 4G Energy and 4GE2 Pro.
Bam’s flagship 4G-enabled smart feature phones: 4G Energy and 4GE2 Pro.

Bam Telecoms, a black-owned telecommunications firm, plans to shake-up SA’s tightly-contested mobile device market, when it launches its locally-manufactured smartphone range in September.

Established in 2020, by Manelisi Bam, MTN’s former manager of branded retail channel and enterprise SME, the firm bills itself as the first 100% black-owned original equipment manufacturer in SA, having initially started developing communication solutions for the private and public sectors.

During the official launch of the company’s device range, attended by high-ranking government officials in Sandton last night, Bam shared his vision of bridging SA’s digital divide by providing “affordable 4G-enabled, quality phones, tablets and smart technologies to the South African market”.

Bam Telecoms has established two factories locally: one in the East London Industrial Development Zone, in the Eastern Cape, and the other in KwaZulu-Natal. Its head office is based in Rosebank, Johannesburg, where its research and development unit is situated – focused on engineering “cutting-edge devices by South Africans for Africans”.

Although the factories have been set up, operations have yet to begin, and the company is still assembling the devices in China.

Bam told the audience that to realise this vision, the company has established strategic partnerships with local and international players, including Chinese multinational ZTE; artificial intelligence and internet of things solutions provider Dahua Technology; IT infrastructure provider Digit; Bam Forensic Institute; Providence Software Solutions; the Vaal University of Technology’s e-skills department; and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

“Bam Telecoms is the first black-owned South African localised telecommunications company manufacturing and assembling devices. Our factories allow us to assemble and handle our products for effective distribution within South Africa.

“ZTE is one of our critical partners because of their chipsets and the technology that sits behind the devices. The difference is not just a phone that is locally-developed, but we have certain applications which specifically cater to people speaking South African languages.

“With 2G and 3G being phased out in SA, we are bringing to the market a first locally-developed 4G-enabled feature phone with internet access, at a low-end price point of less than R800.”

Since inception, Bam Telecoms has been providing solutions to SA’s telecoms sector. The telco is an accredited network partner and reseller for MTN, Vodacom and Cell C on government’s RT15 ticket, he added. The RT15 is a transversal contract for mobile communication services that all organs of state use to contract for services.

Through its network partnerships, the telco also resells SIM card starter packs, airtime and data packages.

The new telco’s entrance into the South African market comes amid an influx of smartphone manufacturers in recent years, including Vivo, Tecno, Oppo and the Mara Group.

Mara established SA’s first smartphone factoryin 2019, but has since shut its doors and its assets were sold in an auction.

In 2020, Taiwanese consumer electronics and smartphone manufacturer HTC announced plans to re-enter the South African market.

Manelisi Bam, CEO and founder of Bam Telecoms.
Manelisi Bam, CEO and founder of Bam Telecoms.

Also speaking at the event, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi noted Bam Telecoms will play a key role in pumping up SA’s economy through its multi-stakeholder partnership deals.

“We welcome Bam Telecoms to the world of digital. We have taken a decision as a province that the future economy of this province should be digital solutions created for our communities.

“We are not only excited about you [Bam Telecoms] entering the market, but we are ready to run with you, move with you and do everything that you expect from your government.

“We thank all the partners that are ready to support you and help you to fly. The reality is that if you can't create jobs, there is no future for that society,” said Lesufi.

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu and Waseem Carrim, CEO of the National Youth Development Agency, were among the speakers who commended the Bam Telecoms team for paving a way for job creation and opportunities for SA’s youth.

Xhea = Township distribution channels

During an interview with ITWeb on the side-lines of the event, Bam explained the company plans to initially launch with five devices.

The flagship devices will be the Bam 4G Energy smart feature phone and Bam Infinity Max, a mid-range device that will offer a blend of premium features, such as dual camera, face recognition and camera sensor fast-charging batteries, at an affordable price.

“Bam Telecoms represents a home-grown brand with a focus on growing our mobile device range. We are bringing affordable smart feature phones to SA – this will ensure our customers have access to reliable, affordable telecommunications solutions. By choosing us, they support local entrepreneurship, job creation and contribute to the growth of a South African brand,” he said.

The 4G Energy has a dual camera, 3 000mAh battery, touch-screen and WiFi connectivity. The Infinity Max has a dual camera (rear 13MP triple AI camera and front 8MP), finger and face recognition, 5 000mAH battery and 32GB ROM.

Other phones include the Bam Digit Next (powered by Digit), Bam 4GE2 Pro and BamT3 Tablet Bam V41 (powered by ZTE).

According to Bam, the company is setting up 1 700 youth-run digital hubs across SA’s townships, which will serve as distribution channels and cellphone repair centres.

“One of Bam Telecoms’ founding principles is community development, and as a result, we have embarked on a drive to create our own distribution channels by setting up digital connectivity hubs across the country, specifically in townships and rural areas, because of the lack of access to technology.”

Bam’s midrange phones: Infinity Max and Digit Next.
Bam’s midrange phones: Infinity Max and Digit Next.